The Seventh Circuit has ruled that Title VII's protections don't extend to sexual orientation, but the court was conflicted in upholding precedent and the shifting public opinion toward gay rights makes clear the issue is destined for Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a unanimous decision Thursday, the appeals court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by Kimberly Hively, a part-time adjunct professor who claimed she was blocked from a full-time position at an Indiana college because of her sexual orientation.

The case highlighted a gap in federal civil rights law, which protects against discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The law does not explicitly cover sexual orientation, despite the rise of public approval for same-sex marriage and discrimination stemming from sexual orientation.

For the majority of employers, the decision is not likely to have a significant impact, according to Steven W. Suflas, the managing partner of Ballard Spahr LLP's Denver office. More than half of states, as well as the District of Columbia and numerous cities, have already banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. And many businesses have expanded their discrimination policies to cover sexual orientation, he said.

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